Sixteen years after Tall Firs’ inception in 1990 their first album found its way out via Thurston Moore’s Ecstatic Peace label. With an association with Sonic Youth firmly in place it is perhaps unsurprising that they found themselves loudly supported by the alternative fraternity. Out Of It, Into It, Tall Firs’ third album, goes a long way to proving that not only is patience a virtue, but that those plaudits are well warranted.
The absence of drummer Ryan Sawyer means that Tall Firs are stripped back to their original form of a duo once again and, as a result Out Of It, Into It finds Aaron Mullan and David Miles in ambient and contemplative mood. Indeed this is an album that is steeped in gentle intertwined guitar work and haunting vocals which draws as much on the alt-country scene as it does the works of artists the band have shared a stage with over the years – Kurt Vile, Sonic Youth and Shellac among them.
Suffer So Long opens the album wonderfully with the guitars of Mullan and Miles complimenting each other perfectly. They dance around each other as the vocals evoke a tremendously stoned Neil Young. If torment for a particularly long period of time results in tunes as delicate and well realised as this, then such sufferance is probably worth it. Waiting On A Friend continues in a similar vein, and hints at J Mascis’ solo work – which in itself isn’t a million miles away from that of Young. Despite the somewhat dour nature of the lyrics – “Tragedy will come when it comes, and it comes, no matter how fast we run” – there’s a strange tranquility and acceptance in the delivery that makes everything seem like it’ll all turn out just fine. It possesses an ambience that suggests that if life turns unbearable, then hiding under a soft warm blanket and rolling plenty of herbal cigarettes is the best course of action.
Early highlight Axeman heads in a more sinister direction with the guitar work of Mullan and Miles tolling in an increasingly foreboding manner as Tall Firs engage the local axeman in conversation regarding his latest victim and, er, tracksuits. Suicide follows (it’s a song name – not a reaction to the album) and possesses a hazy feel that is underpinned with a series of discordant but beautiful melodies borrowed from the Sonic Youth songbook. Not that Tall Firs seem particularly indebted to Thurston Moore and his cohorts. Certainly there is an influence in Tall Firs’ music, but such is the perfect vision of Out Of It, Into It that it is clear that the duo are entirely in control of their output and eschew the need to pillage the back catalogues of others.
That said, there is a cover of Arthur Russell’s I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face, though even it possesses such heartfelt vocals and evocative slide guitar work that it becomes more than simple homage, and serves to highlight the brilliance of the original. Crooked Smiles however is homage; to ATP, apparently. Although, as with a lot of this album there’s something slightly unsettling at play here, with the distorted riff that makes its presence felt at the midpoint with a plea to get evil. Still, the suggestion to get high just about balances everything out.
From start to finish this is an album that possesses an alluring pull. Even when things are starting to sound a little sinister, the perfect guitar work, woozy vocals and hazy ambience that Tall Firs create is hard to ignore. Get into Tall Firs’ world, and it is hard to leave it behind. Getting out of it only makes the pull more potent.